To The Editor: Boating restrictions on Lake Havasu?

UPDATE added at bottom, 5/10/2016.

Second UPDATE added at bottom, 6/16/2016.

Here’s a question!

“John, have you anything to say about the new restrictions on parts of the lake? I know your site is mostly about the Parker area but this affects us boaters a lot. The effect on tourism will be terrible. Thanks for all that you do.”

Concerned Boater

Thanks for the question, CB, which joins several others we’ve gotten on the subject this week alone. And man, are people getting upset!

The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFW) is proposing changes to boating regulations on the part of Lake Havasu it manages, the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. Mostly, people are concerned about the impact of the proposals prohibiting wakeboarding, skiing, tubing and personal watercraft.

First, let’s tell the story of what the Refuge is for, and why it exists. When Parker Dam was built, it turned the narrower, naturally-flowing Colorado River into the artificially-bloated reservoir called Lake Havasu. After the lake was created, President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt created the Refuge to protect some areas of waterway so that it would continue to resemble its more natural state, with habitat for fish and wildlife and birds and native species of plants and that kind of thing. “If we don’t do this,” FDR told Congress at the time, “future generations will hate me forever and piss on my grave and burn paintings of me every March.” (That’s a quote.*)

Thirty years later, the London Bridge was erected on the shore of Lake Havasu by an eccentric chainsaw hustler, and the city started to blossom (do cities blossom?). By that time, the lake had become a haven for tourism and performance boats and water-skiing and bikinis and all the other things that make the river so much fun. Lots of us were attracted to the river lifestyle and started visiting and moving here. During that time, the Refuge allowed these river rats to do their thing, to a largish extent, with boating restrictions in some of the more sensitive areas.

Now, USFW is proposing new restrictions on more sections of the waterway, and the river rats are pretty mad. Local leaders have alleged that the service is engaged in bureaucratic overreach, and argue that it may be acting outside its authority. Senator John McCain has asked USFW to justify its actions and to hold off until it hears public comment. Stakeholders in local tourism-related fields worry publicly that the regulations will take away some of the fun of the lake and therefore harm the economy here.

To be honest, CB, they (and you) have a very good point. After all, the many miles of public waterway here on the Colorado River are a primary reason people love the area, and why they spend millions to come here for weekends, or for months or years at a time. All of those dollars are important dollars, economically.

But to be honest, it runs deeper than economic concerns. The real reason this gets people angry is because it seems to strike at our way of life. Right, CB? That’s the basic concern. Wakeboarding, skiing, tubing and personal watercraft are not small parts of the lifestyle, and the Refuge is not a small part of the lake. Even just getting around on the water north of Lake Havasu City takes a little speed, unless you want to spend all day just trying to get where you’re going. This is… a lifestyle hit.

Havasu_NWR_Boating_DRAFT CD_12April2016

And so, while I think everybody understands the need for some no-wake zones (Topock Gorge is a great example), especially in areas that were set aside for wildlife habitats long before most of us were alive (the backwaters and marshes at the Refuge are good examples), the ordinary mainstream activities of Lake Havasu and its typical uses by the people and the local economy are important too.

Do we need habitats for migratory birds, endangered fish, and weird critters of many shapes, sizes and smells? I believe so, yes. We have a kind of selfish habit of not caring about things that don’t directly benefit us. But some of these poor suckers are nearly extinct and I don’t think we should be the generation that puts the final nail in their little fishy coffins. If I have to slow my boat down in a few places to keep the little goobers alive, I wouldn’t mind doing it. Besides, I don’t want my great grandkids pissing on my grave, either. (I’m with FDR on that one.)

But USFW should take the concerns of those of us on the other side of the balance seriously, and listen to the many people who are showing up at their meetings to express them.

Balance. That’s a good word, isn’t it? There’s an increasing polarization happening in American politics these days, where people are encouraged to be on the outside extremes of important issues, and never to engage with them in a nuanced way. That’s how we end up with people calling each other ‘stupid’ in presidential elections instead of figuring out how to tackle the issues in an adult way.

The truth is, CB, there’s a balance to be had here. For whatever it’s worth, I think the waterway running through the southern portion of the Refuge (which, from what I can tell, is the most hotly contested stretch) could be opened up in the way it was for many years in a compromise to the larger needs of the area without destroying the most crucial habitats. By USFW’s own estimates, large numbers of actual human beings use the area as well as wildlife, which should count for a lot. And the Refuge could stay on its important mission by keeping tighter restrictions in some other areas, along with heavy protections in the backwaters and marshes and deserts it controls.

Is that too simplistic? Or is it a sensible approach? Let us know in the comments below.

The next public hearing is on Monday, May 2nd from 6-8pm at the Aquatic Center at 100 Park Avenue in Lake Havasu City. It ought to be a doozy. If you feel importantly about this issue one way or the other, you should go. But remember what we learned here!: those on the other side aren’t idiots. They just care more about different things. Like CB and FDR.

(I wonder would FDR have been a wakeboarder if he were alive today?)

Happy Thursday,


To read the complete 11-page proposal, go HERE.

* This quote may or may not be made up.

UPDATE 5/10/2016: A 30-day extension has been added for public comments on the proposals for the Refuge. It’s widely seen as a concession by USFW on the issue.

UPDATE 6/16/2016: The USFW has withdrawn its proposals after the public comments period closed on June 13th. More information HERE.


  1. Dave Judy

    John Wright for President!!!

  2. Awesome piece. Yes both these things are important and yes we need to act like adults. The lake should be open for business and it won’t affect the refuge.

  3. Cheyenne Garcia

    Excellent article! ????????

  4. Joaquin Vences

    Don’t worry once trump is prez, he’ll fix all this…..and if u don’t like it….then get out!

  5. Well done IMO. Thanks!

    I’ve been going to the River all my life so I think I have enough experience to speak about it, albeit without the name calling I see so much of from the locals there. I remember when we’d day camp over in that area because it was the only flat water for skiing in the lake. I remember when Havasu was the “family” place on the River and Parker was the immoral place. My how that has flipped.

    I vote to close that area off. Havasu used to be a really neat place that was the opposite of Parker. Now, Havasu is just a place for drunks, strippers, people unwelcome other places, and worse. There’s zero chance I’d take my family there. People with boats like us (small, loud and fast) have plenty of areas to do our thing on Havasu if we wanted to go there. But we don’t because the rest of he lake is too dangerous with the drunks driving everywhere and the stripper culture. We need to respect other Americans who want to have a more natural experience free from the drugs and slutty behavior so common at Havasu. Some of those people aren’t into loud fast boating you may be surprised to learn. My family loves the float through Topock Gorge and hates teh rest of the lake. I think we’d probably do the kayak thing in the refuge if we didn’t have to deal with the wakeboard people with their stereos cranked up to deafening and their trash and their incessant and infantile need for constant attention-getting. I’ve seen plenty of wakeboard people go after the kayakers too so let’s dispense with any pretense the two are compatible.

    From the caustic online comments from locals there that I have read this issue doesn’t have a lot to do with the quality of life there. It’s about that weird political environment in rural places like AZ that is anti-government. In fact, all of the people I know who moved to Havasu have done so because they think of Havasu as a place free from rules, like Baja is thought to be.

    The cops there also need to take the drunk boating thing seriously.

    If the locals are concerned about revenue from tourists then they might think about doing some improvements that would bring in more families who would spend money instead of just the drunks from So Cal who buy houses there and stand in the ditch under the bridge drinking and peeing. The Lake Havasu experience is disgusting in so many ways.

    Also, inviting public comment is a ruse for stopping it all. Just do what the scientists know is best and if it doesn’t suit you then pack up your sandbox and find another place to destroy in the name of freedom.


  6. Alan Nelson

    One compromise could be seasonal and “day of week” restrictions, similar to what’s done in the northern portions of Lake Mohave. Put the wake restrictions in place from October-March when boating is at a minimum. Carefully examine the wildlife situation and restrict some areas only during the week, or times of greatest wildlife activity.

    People cried, bitched and complained when the No Wake Zone was put at Blue Water. (Which was for protection of the Yuma Clapper Rail and had nothing to do with the Casino). A reasonable compromise was met. But even now, idiots are still vandalizing and cutting the buoys loose. Come on people, it’s a small part of a large recreation area.

    How about the Bill WIlliams Refuge? Why not remove those restrictions? That would give Havasu Springs a ton of new business.

    We have to look past the almighty dollar and realize that if the resources of our River are lost, no amount of money is going to get them back.

  7. This was excellently written John. What you are really saying in a very nice way is, stop being so selfish people! I think that’s about right. But yet the tourism and everything else is very important too and you say that a lot. These 2 things are compatible. The lake is for more than one purpose.

  8. Actually David the lake is for only 1 purpose! It is a reservoir for containing and supplying water. Recreation is a secondary purpose and happens only with the permission of the Bureau of Reclamation! We got to remember that. That said I am a boater and support all that too. But lets not get too uppity.

  9. This is an area frequently used for people to teach their kids to ski and wakeboard away from the huge 70 mph boats on the lake. This section was shut down with no notice on Memorial weekend last year. It was made a no wake area for kayaks. The closing was sneaky and dishonest. Now that they have been called out on it they’ve switched the reason for the closure to an environmental one. So yes, locals feel their lifestyle is being attacked and that Fish and Game is going to use whatever rules and regulations they need to get what they want.

  10. Al- That sounds like the southern portion of the Refuge, which I think people care about most for wakeboarding/skiing etc. I hope people go to the meeting and make their voices heard. Thanks everyone else for chipping in too!

  11. John, nice article. The Havasu News has been publishing a lot of misinformation about river long no-wake zones which were never proposed, but you seem to have gotten it right. What are your thoughts on a reasonable speed limit, 35-40 mph up the river?

  12. Katie it doesn’t bother me too much if it’s in specific areas and for really sound reasons. 🙂

  13. Well written, John. I do disagree with a few points, however. The notion that the refuge is a large portion of the lake is not accurate. The southern part of the refuge in question, which is causing all the “outrage,” is only around about 600 acres as I look at the map, and that’s rounding up. Out of an approximately 19,000-acre lake, by my math (which I am not particularly good at), that is about only 3% of the reservoir portion. That’s pretty minimal and I suggest the wake-causing users are actually the ones who want the ENTIRE lake, not the feds. And people want the feds compromise? Are you kidding me? They’re almost out of lands to compromise WITH on the lake. Maybe that’s the locals’ plan all along? Looks like the refuge is just trying to hang onto what little portion of the lake they actually do have. The original reasonS listed by the feds for the restrictions a year ago (in a press release), was to protect human safety AND protect wildlife. The suggestion by many, including some of your commenters here, that the feds “changed their reason” from a year ago, is false. This has been one giant smear campaign by the local “leaders” in Lake Havasu City. They’ve gotten Gosar and a few other politicians to buy into this garbage. I tell everyone, read the feds’ draft compatibility determination. It’s only like 9 pages long. It cites reasons, authorities, regs and laws that they are following. And then I urge you to look up the authorities/regs/laws they are citing. I have. Looks to me like this has been legit/legal all along. People just don’t like it. But folks don’t want to look stuff up, they just take the inaccurate quotes in the Havasu News from local “leaders” as gospel. “Stirring up the locals.” Oldest political trick in the book. The Havasu News has happily perpetuated this in what can only be called very biased “journalism.” And if the skiers whine about the 70-mph boats making other areas dangerous, then a lake-wide speed limit would fix that. By the way, there are 3 coves on the lake, appropriately named Ski Cove 1, Ski Cove 2 and Ski Cove 3 that provide skiing opportunities off the main part of the lake. Thx for your balanced article.

  14. Thanks for your thoughtful contribution. 🙂

  15. There are serious problems with the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) draft compatibility determination.

    Taken directly from draft compatibility determination:

    Description of Use – section(d)(analysis portion)
    ● in other areas of the Refuge, all watercraft must travel at no-wake speeds as
    indicated by signs and regulatory buoys

    Stipulations Necessary to Ensure Compatibility
    1. All watercraft will travel at no-wake speeds as defined by state law on waters under the
    Refuge’s jurisdiction, including backwaters and areas defined by signs and buoys.

    Sorry, but the legally ambiguous language of this one stipulation reads like the USFWS is trying to couch an expansion to section(d) of the “description of use” to create a “No-Wake” zone from Topock to Havasu. Not sure that’s what was intended but that’s what they wrote…

    Is the main river channel in the Refuge under the Refuges’ jurisdiction? If so this is and should be causing serious alarm for business owners in that area.

    I would re-iterate to your readers that “Boating” is NOT considered a priority use by the USFWS. However we all know that boating is critical to the economy in the area. The USFWS’s interpretation of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 and their “boating policy” in the Refuge is egregiously irresponsible with respect to the local economy. In my opinion also highlights the USFWS’s disconnect to local citizens livelihood.

    Unfortunately the US Fish & Wildlife Service has put themselves in an adversarial role and does not appear to be Havasu’s friend…

    Hope all this works out for the good of the people but right now it looks kind of bad.

  16. I agree, the wording on this document could be better. But, when in doubt, ASK someone. It is only a DRAFT document, after all. They are not gonna be completely polished. Hence, a “draft.” Ask someone who’s NOT a local politician or newspaper with an obvious bias. That’s what I did. I asked USFW people (NOT local politicians with a financial interest in this), and others who work on the lake. The fact is that the feds are NOT proposing to shut down the 17 miles of the lake, or even put a single further restriction on that stretch.

    And my understanding of the main river channel is that it falls under a joint jurisdiction (I think, not positive on that). But, I’d think that not only USFW has jurisdiction, but also states and probably Coast Guard as it’s considered navigable waters. If that is true, then USFW cannot make any changes on that without agreement from those entities. So again, it’s not even proposed. All proposals in document are in areas where USFW has sole jurisdiction, or at least that’s my interpretation and what I’m being told.

    But, due to morons yelling “bullsh#t!” and “liar!” every time someone tried to offer an opposing point of view, we never got to hear the feds clarify their document. Which is really Gosar’s M.O. He cuts people off on purpose to keep from letting anyone hear answers to his questions (because there might be facts that ‘reveal’ him). And he’s now clearly taught the Havasu locals this technique. All this whining about “govt overreach” (really? can’t people mimic someone other than the Bundys?) and even some folks quoting the constitution. But yet these same people refuse to allow others to politely express their point of view.

    Suppressing opinions by shouting vulgarities is not what the right of “free speech” is supposed to be about. There were plenty of opportunities for pro-fast-boaters to express themselves. But yet when folks, who had great courage, by the way, actually expressed support for the feds, they were shouted down by the crowd. Those idiots who did that do not help their cause at all. This is the mob mentality at its finest. Rather pathetic, actually. Thanks, Gosar. Great “leadership.”

  17. Seymour,

    Wording turns into LAW. Asking “someone” what they “meant” does not change the intent in what they wrote and later becomes hearsay. The bottom line is factual not opinion. We can only base our decisions on what was presented in the draft.

    Did the USFWS get the draft wording wrong? If so it is paramount to raise concerns. Especially if you own a business in the area.

  18. Candi Evans

    Because it’s wildlife Refuge, A wildlife refuge, also called a wildlife sanctuary, is a naturally occurring sanctuary, such as an island, that provides protection for species from hunting, predation or competition, it is a protected area, a geographic territory within which wildlife is protected.

    Such wildlife refuges are generally officially designated territories. They are created by government legislation, publicly or privately owned (the Chernobyl nuclear accident site has accidentally become a wildlife refuge). Refuges can preserve animals that are endangered.

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